Home Theatre: A joyous rabbit hole of music and humour
A fortnightly column that focuses on notable content available on the streaming platforms around you, and this week it's Alex in Wonderland, streaming on Amazon Prime Video
I was initially planning to write about a serious docuseries this past weekend, but stumbled upon Alex in Wonderland on Amazon Prime Video. And boy, am I glad I did. It is the perfect show to chase away the blues that are perpetually clouding our lives in today's chaotic world. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, most of you have probably already watched this show, or are at least aware of its existence. But for those unaware, it's pegged as a musical stand-up act. Don't go in expecting the usual stand-up routine though. The ridiculously talented Alexander Babu takes us through a roughly two-hour-long show that is part Villu Paatu and part mimicry act, all built around Tamil film music and peppered with bits of what he himself terms 'message'. I could have done without this last bit, which is largely simplistic and even trite, but it's easy to overlook it, when the entertainment factor is as high.
Alex also gives interesting little titbits about his own personal life and how he got to where he is now. This part resonated with me personally, given the relatability of his career trajectory. Before he narrates this portion as part of the live show, we, the streaming audience, get a little skit of the whole sequence of events (with a Karagattakaran car thrown in for good measure). It's nothing extraordinary, but nicely sets up what is to follow. For instance, the kolai radio (loud speaker) and what's played on it during this prologue get callbacks in the live show. When telling us about his journey from corporate life to where he is now, Alex brings up another thing that really rang true and made me nod along. He speaks about how despite not being happy with his job, his life was generally happy, and the thing that brought this joy was... is… music. I’m sure we are not alone in this. If you too find joy and solace in music, this show is well worth watching. Even if you are not familiar with the language (he does use English liberally, and there are subtitles to help you along) and/or Tamil film music, give it a go. As Alex says, "Poga poga seriyagidum (over time, it will become alright)." Alexander Babu is a phenomenal performer. His range as a musician and skill with mimicry make him a delight to watch.
And then there is the comedic gold in the little sketches he does about various musicians and songs — MSV's penchant for using simple bongo beats, Ilaiyaraja's chorus singers, AR Rahman's singing, SPB, Yesudas, Ullathil Nalla Ullam, all get their turn. Some of this is so inspired that I found myself applauding at my screen! A word of advice here to those viewers who may not be familiar with the songs he is talking about: Feel free to pause the show, go and look them up — in video form preferably given Alex's impersonations are part body language and part voice — and then proceed. It will make you appreciate the act so much more (I did this myself for some songs whose videos were not so sharp in my memory). And definitely watch these songs again later after the show for further hilarity. I wonder if I will ever be able to watch Karnan with a straight face again. Or for that matter, enjoy the song Maasi Masam without the alternate lyrics popping in my mind.
While I truly enjoyed the show and was cheering wholeheartedly by the end, it does have its share of problems, which I'd be remiss not to mention. It is a bit of a slow starter, and as mentioned before, if you go in looking for straight up comedy, you will likely be disappointed. Alex is clearly a believer and wears his faith on his sleeve, a bit too much perhaps. I don't mean bringing up his religion, specifically, but there is a lot of allusion to god(s) and their gifts, and the expectation that we will be in agreement. No more than your average fellow commuter it's true, but this is a show meant for a wider audience after all. I've already brought up the easy, wide-eyed little messages he ties his various little pieces with. These are exactly the kind you'd find in forward form on WhatsApp — never give up, don't imitate, be yourself, everyone can become a hero if they only try, etc. But they seem harmless enough and are just as easy as those forwards to ignore.
These are mostly minor quibbles for a show that is overall so enjoyable, and on multiple viewings too. So I am definitely cheering for this wonderful performer and looking forward to whatever he does next. At the end of the show, when thanking the audience, Alex does the little 'drishti suthi podura' hand gesture, the one that here denotes gratitude mixed with pride and happiness. I wanted to do the same right back at him.